Help a hair novice cover her greys
May 8, 2015 4:31 PM   Subscribe

My grey hairs have been proliferating in the last few months, and I've decided I'm not ready to embrace them. I'm a 3A/B curly lady with totally virgin hair. Looking explanations and tips about hair coloring that an inept novice could follow. A few more questions/concerns inside:

So I have black/very very dark brown corkscrew curly hair that's now getting shot through with grey here and there. I'm not sure it's enough to warrant a full-on professional treatment; it seems like something a home rinse could take care of? But I honestly have no idea how any of this works.

I'm basically looking for advice for the most idiot-proof and easy method to cover up the grey. My three biggest concerns are:
1. matching my natural color--I don't want to go any lighter, but I feel like I always see people (including my own mother) get this inky black that looks totally fake.
2. Not messing up my curl texture--will dye affect the structure of my curls?
3. Something that's a fairly easy process--the extent of my hair skills and patience is essentially conditioning it, throwing on some leave-in product, and calling it a day. I don't have much more experience or patience than that.

Is this possible, hair experts of MeFi?
posted by TwoStride to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I have hair similar to yours (lighter in color, but same curls) and use Clairol's Nice N Easy. I do not do my whole head, just my temples. I leave it on for 40 minutes, rinse it out, use a conditioner and it's good to go. I get multiple uses out of an entire bottle because I don't need much each time - I hit a beauty supply shop for an applicator brush and plastic gloves, and have a glass jar for mixing the dye.

If you are nervous about choosing the right color, there are semi dyes that wash out after 12 shampoos (or fewer, if you use harsh shampoo), so you can try it without feeling like you've committed to something that has to grow out.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 4:40 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

As far as texture is concerned, I found my gray's texture was totally different from my regular hair. As the ratio shifted to more and more gray, it was like I'd had a hair transplant. And not in a good way! It's got a mind of its own. Mine happens to be frizzy compared to my previous stick straight hair. So if you do dye and start to be troubled by texture changes, it's probably the gray and not the color.
posted by cecic at 4:59 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go and get a professional to do it. Then, you can handle the roots touch-ups inbetween salon visits. Killer Strands has good advice, and I suggest buying Goldwell or another pro color and developer, not drugstore. It's cheaper in the long run and you can mix the colors to get your exact match.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:33 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing the Clariol's Nice N Easy. But then, my hair is more of a dark blonde so having some gray (or white) creep back in or having the color fade a bit overall isn't much of a problem. If you have really silky-type corkscrew curls, I'd be concerned about how the color would look two or more weeks afterwards. IME, it can end up being a long time between when your hair needs to be colored again and when you actually get around to doing it. I think it would be worth talking to your stylist about it. Your mileage may vary, but every stylist I've ever had has been supportive of me coloring my own hair. They've been happy to offer pointers and, presumably, tell me when I really should turn the job over to a professional.
posted by DrGail at 5:35 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a few greys pop up recently (just a few but enough that plucking the infiltrator out every 6 months is maybe not going to be the solution anymore), and here's where I'm up to. Professional highlights would have to be redone every 6 weeks (and cost $$$!), but they'll look the best. All-over home colour might be harsh on your hair, though just doing root-touchups might not be too bad. I think this is the least effortful/cheapest. All-over temporary colour won't cover the greys. Another solution that preserves your colour/hair health where it is to go to a beauty supply store, get advice on the right colours and bleach, and just colour the greys at home. This will take time and effort, though (and probably several mirrors and/or the help of a friend). I'm going to try the home highlighting, because I'm crazy and my hair is already frizztastic. Good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:53 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

The problem with "black/very very dark brown" hair is that if you are trying to get your greys covered up, to blend in, you have to use black hair dye ( also semi-permanents won't give you enough pigment for this). That's because grey is much, much lighter than black, and you need the grey to pick up enough black to be as black as the surrounding hair. I have hair color that's similar ( and also thick and coarse), and the problem is that all drug store dyes will cause you to have a completely black very flat color anywhere you apply it. If you really are only applying it to a few strands it's less noticeable. But the more you have to apply it to greater sections the more it gives you that completely flat inky black look you mention. That's what I hate about coloring my greys. I can't afford to got to a salon, but I suspect they must be able to deal with this problem somewhat at least.

Oh, but the fact that you have curly hair would help the color not look as flat I think.
posted by Blitz at 6:16 PM on May 8, 2015

I have black / very dark brown hair, and have quite a few white hairs, hair with exact same texture as the black strands but just completely lacking in pigment. I get it colored at an expensive salon, and the color matches my natural hair color and does not look flat or fake. It's the concern for getting that flat fake black color that keeps me going back to the salon instead of coloring at home. I've discussed home hair touch ups with my stylist and she says because of how my white hairs are distributed I would need another person to do it so as not to miss any white hairs towards the back of my head.

I would recommend going to a salon the first time and pay attention to what they say about and do with your hair, such as how long they keep the color on it.

If cost is a serious concern, go to a Sally Beauty Supply for hair color and any other chemicals you need, along with supplies like applicator brush, gloves, plastic cape, etc.
posted by needled at 6:51 PM on May 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I use henna, but I use a coppery version (my hair is dark brown) so it leaves the gray as reddish highlights, which I like. I suppose I could try to match it with another henna concoction, but I'm not sure if it would work, having not tried it. But you might want to explore it.

Downsides to henna: messy, makes your hair smell like hay for a bit.

Upsides: you can do it at home, far less harsh on hair.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 6:52 PM on May 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

My mother has very dark brown/nearly black hair (coarse but not curly), and she colored her own hair for about 20 years. She used a semi-permanent color a few shades lighter than her color (I think it was dark medium brown), on the advice of her hairdresser. The flat color comes from trying to match your shade; the lighter color allows the hair to blend (and it doesn't look like highlights or anything, it just blends better than gray). Semi-permanent will wash out after six to eight weeks (faster if you wash it often), so if it changes the texture, or you think the shade is too light, it's not a big commitment.
Clairol's semi-permanent brand is now called "Natural Instincts" and it's easy, but can be messy. Mom had a "hair-coloring towel" and a "hair-coloring t-shirt."
Good luck!
posted by hiker U. at 6:56 PM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've been coloring my very dark brown hair for about 20 years. My current system is to dye my hair every 4 weeks mostly at home, but I have my stylist do it every 4th time or so (generally 3-4x per year) so that she can even out any spots that I may have missed in the back and that seems to be enough to keep the color properly distributed. I also use the same professional brand and shade that she uses. Sometimes I order it on Amazon, other times she's gives me a few tubes if they have some around (she's very understanding and I've been going to her for years). We use Revlon Color Fusion, which covers gray well, but it is more translucent than other brands, which helps prevent that flat look that you can get with dark brown dye.

Even if you use store bought hair dye, you want to apply it like they would in the salon, not necessarily how the instructions tell you to do it. You will need a hair dye brush to eveny distribute the dye solely on the roots and use the tail end to make a part every 1/4." Even if the directions say to leave it on for 25 minutes, you'll probably need to leave it on for closer to 45 minutes and you do NOT need to run it through your entire head of hair the last 10 minutes when you are just doing root touch-ups (basically every time that you dye your hair except the first time, which you'll probably do your whole head). Part of that darkening that you are talking about happens when people do their whole head rather than just the roots. The previously dyed hair picks up more dye than the virgin roots and keeps getting darker.

I totally understand you wanting to dye your hair but try to put it off as long as you can. It's a pain in the ass (unless it's super short and even then, it's not fun, just a lot easier). I mean it's definitely doable, but it's a chore and if I had more $, I would definitely get it done at the salon every time.
posted by kaybdc at 8:05 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

As with potsmokinghippieoverlord, I would generally recommend a henna/indigo combination ("henndigo") in this case. This site has a lot of information, recipes, and sells mixes. You should only buy quality henna and indigo (you might choose to use Body Art Quality henna, which is more expensive but is unadulterated either with organic material or with chemicals). You can also use the Lush caca brun (or marron) bar, which might be less intimidating than mixing henna and indigo for a first-timer, but which is more expensive ($25 in the US), and is loaded with cocoa butter, which you may or may not like. Henna alone gives a reddish/orangey glaze over your natural hair color (on dark hair it won't do much, but would change white hair to an orangey color); but mixed with indigo in the right proportion, it should give an auburn/dark brown cast to your whites while not doing much to your other hair. My sister has used henndigo several times (Lush caca marron) and it looks awesome (she doesn't have grays yet so I can't speak for coverage, but the final result was a rich dark auburn). Here is one example of potential color results; here is another; this thread contains others. The advantage over boxed dyes is that it is actually good for hair and scalp, and much cheaper than a salon. Henna conditions hair, adding body and amazing shine in the light. The disadvantage is that it has a grassy smell while wet, and it's a bit messier to apply than box dye (it's a batter-like paste rather than a liquid), and you have to leave it on for a while (few hours). Not sure whether your (3) makes this unworkable...
posted by ClaireBear at 8:29 PM on May 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

My hair texture is different than yours (straight and fine) but the same colour, dark dark brown that is almost black. You can totally find drug store dye that will match your colour!

I have a couple that I use. My hair is a cool, neutral brown--not reddish and not ashy. That did make it hard to find a shade that I liked, and even now that I have, I have to deal with it lightening and getting reddish as the colour fades (say, after the week mark or so). However, I get compliments on my hair all the time, like literally several times a week. I find the dye actually makes my hair even shinier than it was before I started dyeing. My hair is probably fairly recently dyed here because I don't see any sparkly roots.

Anyhow, the two that I like are Clairol Perfect 10's shade #4 (it used to be called Espresso but now I think it's just called Dark Brown) and Gosh Darkest Brown (possibly only available in Canada). Both leave my hair darker than I would like for the first few days, but after 3-4 (daily for me) washings, the colour is perfect. I can only tell when I have roots because of the silver hair, the brown strands match my roots perfectly.

The process for both is easy: cover yourself up, spread an old towel down on your bathroom counter, gloop the stuff all over your hair, wait, rinse, condition.

Other than dyeing it every couple months, my entire hair regime consists of shampooing and towel drying, with winter blow drying to prevent icicles, so you can trust me that it's not complicated. Also, I'd rather pay $15 than $200 and my home results are good enough I don't feel like I have to.
posted by looli at 9:19 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hello fellow grey hair novice! I asked a similar question a few months ago and got helpful answers. I also updated on what worked for me.

Good luck!

NB: My hair is wavy, but like cecic, my greys are a different texture (curlier, more wiry). The dye doesn't change my normal hair texture.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:05 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'd rather pay $15 than $200

FWIW my hair stylist charges me $39 and this is in DC. Granted I'm getting a good deal and I tip her well, so it's more like $50, but still not even in the same post code as $200.
posted by kaybdc at 10:14 PM on May 8, 2015

My hair is dark brown, nearly black, and started to grey when I was in my twenties. Here's what I do.

I buy Wella Color Charm 3N (dark natural brown, a bit lighter than my original shade) on Amazon, and mix it 1:2 with Wella Color Charm activating lotion. About once every two weeks, I colour my entire head, using a small paintbrush and a comb. I don't bother with gloves, and I use an ordinary kitchen mug for mixing. I leave it on for 40 minutes because grey is colour-resistant, then wash it out in the shower.

Color Charm is semi-permanent which is very forgiving. If you get it on your skin, it'll wash off with a little scrubbing. It won't permanently stain clothes or towels. You won't have a harsh line when regrowth happens (it fades slowly) and you won't get that dead flat black look.

I've experimented a lot -- with professional colour, permanent colour, various cover-up techniques. This is simple, fast, cheap, and it works :)
posted by Susan PG at 11:20 PM on May 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the henndigo (henna & indigo) process to get a natural dark brown/black-ish colour over gray hairs.

If you find the scent of natural henna paste to be a bit "grassy" as some people put it, then you can always add a scent to it. I have fragrant oils that I use from making balms and soaps and add a few drops of it to my henna for hair paste to offset the grassy scent.

Be sure to get natural pure henna powder; one that has *not* been adulterated. The BAQ (Body Art Quality) is the best quality, as it has more lawsone (the staining dye molecule), and is almost always triple-sifted, which means it washes out more easily. Jamila brand from Pakistan, and henna from the Sojat valley of Rajasthan in India are highly renowned for their quality.

I do not recommend the Lush brand of henna, as they mix their product heavily with other ingredients such as cocoa butter, which may or may not agree with your specific hair type. They also want you to heat/melt their product before using it -- and high heat is actually quite detrimental to the lawsone molecule, and will decrease it's staining/dyeing capacity. (In other words, it's really not the best way to use henna on your hair, and it's grossly overpriced for the quantity or what it does.)

(I strongly recommend against black hair dye, as it contains PPD, which can cause strong allergic reactions over time. To the point that some people can no longer wear black clothing, because they actually react to the leftover dye residue in the clothing! It's rare, but it does happen.)

I've been using just pure organic Rajasthan BAQ henna alone on my grays for the past year, and I must say that it has definitely improved the condition of my hair and even given a slight texture/weight boost to my very lightweight and fragile hair.

Disclaimer: I am a professional henna body artist.
posted by Jade Dragon at 1:10 AM on May 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

Get advice from a professional. Grey hairs usually need to be dyed with permanent dye (rather than a semi-permanent rinse).

I used to dye my hair at home with permanent dye. It's not scary after the first time. But because I found it really hard to just dye the regrowth, I used to end up just doing my whole head every time. This meant that the ends of my hair ended up much darker because of all the layers of dye. After that I decided that if I was ever going to colour my hair again, I'd just leave it to a professional. It can be expensive, but is usually worth the extra cost.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 4:00 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing to note about henna is that you could have unexpected results if you ever choose to use a chemical color later on .
posted by missmerrymack at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Two more things, re. henna/henndigo:

missmerrymack noted that you could have unexpected results if you choose to use a chemical color after henna. I believe this is only if you have used non-BAQ henna (body art quality), which is often adulterated with metallic salts that react strangely to hair dye later, etc. I don't believe that pure henna reacts to chemical color (see here), but you'd obviously want to confirm that if you decided to go that route.

Also, I just want to note that I absolutely agree with Jade Dragon that Lush "caca" henna bars are very overpriced and are not the best application method (I don't like the addition of cocoa butter, and the heat to melt the bar isn't helpful for the ingredients themselves). I only suggested it because in my experience many newbies are too intimidated to buy the henna and indigo and mix them, and prefer something pre-made. But I agree that buying the powders themselves and mixing them yourself is cheaper and generally produces a better result (if you buy good quality, fresh powders). In fact, my sister switched from Lush to her own henna/indigo mixture after the first few times for the same reason - the Lush bar basically provided training wheels while she got started.

The HennaForHair site that I linked to above has tons of useful info (this in particular, for henndigo). There are tons of useful YouTube videos too. Here and here are kits/instructions for henndigo (you can also add amla to henndigo for an ashier/cooler shade, if the warmth of henna is too much for you). Note that you can get henna and indigo cheaper than Henna for Hair sells it, but you need to make sure that it is reasonably fresh and unadulterated with metallic salts (or sticks or whatever - sometimes the sifting isn't great if it's not BAQ). Henna for Hair is expensive but more user-friendly for someone new to things (comes with everything you need). But you can definitely find it cheaper elsewhere. Also, while henna can be frozen and thawed and used (I think it may even get a bit stronger that way), I believe freezing kills the indigo dye molecule, so don't mix up more than you actually anticipate using in one session. Don't forget to use gloves (!!), and also a plastic sandwich bag with a corner cut out (or a restaurant ketchup bottle) is great if you're just trying to do a targeted roots-only application later on.
posted by ClaireBear at 2:24 PM on May 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Find a stylist who specializes in color. Where I live, there are stylists in all price ranges. Maybe the person who is really good at color is not really good at cutting. Be open about it.

I did my own color for years and looking at old photos, I'm embarrassed. Now, my stylist makes sure the color is adapted to the growing amount of grey hair, and also the different seasons, which means my hair looks very natural.

The color she uses is several grades lighter than my natural almost black hair. I don't know why, but if you match your real color, it looks completely artificial.
posted by mumimor at 3:26 PM on May 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

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